Today was quite the shoot-out here in the wild and wonderful 'West of the East'. With the Junior overall titles playing out in a somewhat predictable fashion, the battle for the Elite Women's overall winner went down to the wire and the Elite Men's was nothing short of a barn-burner. Sometimes the season arrives at the last round with a pre-determined winner, other times it can be a relatively casual cruise down through the finish arch to collect the UCI crystal... But not this time. The decider could not have been scripted with any more drama.
It's fair to say the final round of the DH World Cup was met with high expectations, with both a new venue and a new track, both of which delivered with a vengeance deep in the forest of West Virginia. Beautiful sunny skies had dried the track completely over the previous days and by the time racers took to the track looking for glory, conditions could not have been more ideal. Gone was much of the slick mud in the rock gardens and racers were really able to push the limits of both the track and their own comfort zones, the perfect combination for super tight times and nail-biting racing to the end.
The Junior Men and Women took to the track first and it was Vali Holl who once again took the top step of the podium ahead of Anna Newkirk and Mille Johnset. With only one other Junior woman racing and these top three jumping up to Elite next year it really does make us question what the next generation will look like coming in behind them. The Junior Men's race was dealt a blow when newly crowned world champ and top qualifier, Kye A'hern, crashed in training right before the race and was forced out with what looks like a broken wrist. That would open the door for the series leader, Thibaut Daprela, and the host of fresh faces from yesterday's qualifier to challenge for the win. American Matthew Sterling would come close, but would just miss out on the podium by a single second. Third would go to Lucas Cruz just behind Luke Meier-Smith while Daprela would dominate to take the win by 6 seconds and in the process end his junior career with his second consecutive World Cup title.
The women's race kept everyone on the edge of their seats right until the very end. Myriam Nicole would set the pace and looked good for the win until Marine Cabirou took to the track. Up at every split, Marine laid it all on the line to do what she had to to to take the series title. She would set the fastest time with just her rival Tracey Hannah on track. Tracey started fast but would fade split after split, and while she only needed a top 6 to secure the lead, even that was looking to be a struggle. For the last minute of the race, the tension rose in the finish area as no one was certain which of the two would take the overall title. In the end, Marine would take her third WC win in a row, while Tracey would do just enough to take the World Cup title by the slimmest of margins.
Not to be outdone, Amaury Pierron did all he could do in his run and held down the hotseat until the final rider on track. In the meantime, American, Charlie Harrison, laid down the run of his life to land 3rd to the delight of the home crowd. Loic Bruni arrived shortly after, a little off the pace and into a dubious third with one rider to go. The tension was heavy with Amaury in the hotseat, as Loic could not afford to drop another place. With Danny Hart in the gate that was not a comfortable spot to be in. The unbelievable twist to the tale was that if Danny was to win and beat Amaury, Amaury's points would be insufficient to best Loic and the title would go back to the World Champ. When Danny Hart's splits flirted dangerously close to Pierron's it was obvious that the fate of the title lay in the balance and would likely be decided by just fractions of a second.
It wasn't until the final splits that Danny's time moved into the green, and upon crossing the line in first the heart-ache would set in for Pierron, while just a meter away, Loic was overwhelmed with joy. Never in Loic's life would he ever be so happy to see another rider stand at the top of the podium as he was today for Danny Hart. What a race and what a season. Title chases don't get much closer than that.
Bravo Vali, Thibaut, Tracey, and Loic. You've all put on an incredible show and we are already looking forward to 2020.